Behavioral Euthanasia of Horses

 

“Anna, do you have any articles that touch on behavioral euthanasia?”

It’s from a question about a rescue horse in trouble. Initially, things went well enough but now there is unusual pasture activity, unprovoked aggression toward other horses, and the issues continue to escalate. A horrible fit of extreme bucking resulted in the rider not being hurt too badly, this time, but seemed to leave the horse strangely shaken. There have been dental checks, a chiropractor, and repeated vet visits. No expense has been spared, all ideas exhausted, and the horse continues to struggle. Two vets support the idea of behavioral euthanasia.

Euthanizing for reasons of behavior is more commonly talked about in the dog world (here is a good blog on it) and I’ve written about a hard decision I made on a two-year-old Corgi rescue. Heartbreaking but maybe more understandable for dogs? It’s a question that comes up for our horse rescue organization from time to time and it requires serious consideration for each horse, each time. It’s always the last resort.

Is behavioral even the right word? Is the horse doing something that can be untrained? Keep in mind that the only way a horse has to tell us he’s in pain is with his behavior. Normal horses don’t exhibit extreme behaviors for no reason. It’s always pain of some kind. Add on top that this is a rescue horse with an unknown history.

Most rescue horses work out just fine, given up for innocent reasons; their owner died or couldn’t afford them. No harm. Some come to rescue with bad habits that good trainers straighten out and the horses go on to be valued in new homes. Most rescue placements are positive for both sides.

But the extreme minority may show issues that can’t seem to be righted. Perhaps a horse has a degenerative condition that hasn’t been diagnosed but has progressed now. Neglect can damage organs and bad training can cause mental instability. Or maybe there is a perfect storm of issues that add up to a mess impossible to separate. I still can’t feel good about calling it behavioral if pain is the motivating factor for the horse. No blame on vets, I’ve lost count of the horses brought to me for training that I was certain were having pain or ongoing lameness, only to have the vet say, “Nothing that I can find.” It’s a careful sentence, saying exactly what’s intended. It doesn’t mean the horse is sound or pain-free. Then the owner has a choice, to go further with other vets and more testing, or try to manage as long as possible.

Can a horse have a mental disorder? Perhaps a chemical imbalance, or could a horse have a mental disability? How much do we not know about these questions?

Then, can we talk about the unspeakable? How much money is too much? May I be the unromantic voice of reason? Some of us will spend as much on a lameness issue as others of us make in a year. Do you have a small herd? Can you risk their ongoing welfare on one horse? I will never say that a competition horse is worth more than a rescue, but it’s never the responsibility of the owner to go into profound debt, no matter the horse. You don’t need to apologize, you took a horse in and you probably will again. When it’s time to make a decision based partly on finances, there is no shame. Because all the money in the world can’t heal what has gone beyond our knowledge.

It’s about now that a railbird lets you know you are a quitter. It’s a friend who tells you she would never give up, never euthanize, that it’s always the wrong answer. This person is not your friend. For the depths you have gone to for this horse, let this superficial twit who knows everything float away on her own chatter. Railbirds exist to challenge our integrity, at the expense of their own. No one knows what you know; no one can do more for your horse than you, as much as you wish it. Walk away.

Can you rehome the horse? Please don’t. You got lucky so far, you haven’t been hurt badly. Your dog is still alive. Knowing how hard it is for a horse to go to a new home, are you certain that it won’t make him worse? That it hasn’t happened to your horse a couple of times already.

What if he falls into the wrong hands; what if he must prove himself “not right” again and again? But the next time, what if he hurts himself badly? Can you live with yourself if he hurts another person? Maybe that place won’t have the meager money you have for vet bills and he might be left to fend for himself, maybe a grinding death through painful and slow starvation. Considering that, would he be lucky to land on a truck to Mexico? What if all the possibilities are dark and sad and his pain is the only bright-hot moan in the night?

There are so many things are worse than death, if horses even think about it. They live in the moment so there’s little equine philosophizing. It’s always our issue, and wrong to let our perceptions get in the way of a horse’s reality. What do we know? If this horse was in the wild, it’s possible that predators would have resolved this question long ago, with his understanding.

For domestically owned horses, we have to become the kind predator. Amid the loud jangling din of all sides, the endless worry and the wish for a better solution, in some quiet corner of your mind, you know. At a still time of the day, the sunset may remind you that the circle of life can appear to die but circle around back again, unbroken. You don’t have to stop loving him to stop his suffering.

It takes no special skill to love a horse, but to do it well will eventually break your heart. And make you stronger for your next horse because that’s what it means to not quit.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
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Anna Blake

125 thoughts on “Behavioral Euthanasia of Horses”

  1. You make me catch my breath sometimes. No one, and I read a lot, can speak to the truth of a hard matter as clearly, cleanly -with love- as you. Thank you for saying it all. No veils, no sweet euphemisms. Just the kind, full truth.

    As always, so grateful for you.

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  2. Wow. Thank you. I’m a new horse owner, and though I’ve loved them from afar all my life, the up close and personal view has to include the deep commitment to their well being that goes way beyond feeding and brushing and adoring them. Your understanding, one that comes out of years of time spent from the beginning to the end of animals’ lives, is so valuable to me. I think I avoid the hard questions that haven’t happened to me yet, but I deeply appreciate your willingness to face them with me.

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  3. Re Behavioural Euthanasia.
    I’ve seen b., changes arise from:
    1. Magnesium added to diet,
    2. X-rays on hooves and lower limbs reveal unbalanced trim making joints angled – a balanced trim and re-x-Ray (this horse went from aggressive to a pussy cat),
    3. Brain tumour found later.
    (Three different horses .)

    I wonder if someone who understands acupuncture meridians may find something through touch investigation?
    (An example, Dr Kerry Ridgeway DVM had put up a video on YouTube of a horse with shoulder pain issues.)

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      • I believe someone said Kerry Ridgeway passed awhile back. He was wealth of information and talent. Tom Mayes does amazing work too! He cranial alignment too. Most vets don’t X-ray for kissing s spine. The pain from that can cause extreme behavior issues. If it’s a mare, endocrine conditions are often overlooked/not tested for. I wish them (horse and owner) the best. God Bless

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    • I also wonder about the behavioral changes due to possible PSSM. There are so many variants to the diagnosis types. It seems as if it’s easily missed or mistaken for something else.

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  4. I am not a horse owner but love horses and follow your blog to educate myself on horses. You wrote “There are so many things are worse than death, if horses even think about it. They live in the moment so there’s little equine philosophizing. It’s always our issue, and wrong to let our perceptions get in the way of a horse’s reality” that spoke to me the hardest of all!

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  5. Thank you for this….most accept the notion that there are no bad horses just bad owners, but that does make sense as we know humans have mental defects as may dogs so why not horses. My first horse had many behavioral issues. She was dangerous in certain situations. Even my vet recognized something wasn’t right. We learned to trust each other, and I gave her a good life but I was concerned that if anything happened to me that if she was rehomed she would hurt someone.
    In the end after many years I recognized her sight had totally deteriorated and she was living in a fearful world…it was hard to put down an otherwise healthy horse but I believe in the end letting her go gave her freedom. I know there were people who thought I was giving up to soon.

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  6. This really needed to be written, Anna. When I was a kid with my first horse, I boarded her at a little barn – the owner bought & sold horses. I do remember one – a really pretty strawberry roan with white stockings. I rode her once. She would rear & lunge forward. Which someone tried to “fix”. I’m sure she went on to a bad place or maybe several where someone else tried to fix her. Because back then there wasnt an attempt to find out why – only to “break” the habit (or the horse). As anyone of us who has been around horses over the years – I saw much that still bothers me – mostly what was done TO the horses. I know you & others here have been there too. I think things are better for horses and dogs now. Mostly.

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  7. A difficult concept for many humans to accept. Such irony in the root of the word “humane”. Your words leave little to debate. Thank you. Again & again.

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        • Thanks, Susan. Like most of us, I use every option, including hair analysis. Thanks for the link. And even then, as helpful as a hair analysis is, there are things it does not resolve… My goal in this blog was to talk about a related topic, behavioral euthanasia, because of an email I got. Thanks again.

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  8. Thanks for writing and posting this, Anna. I like your paragraph about railbirds-the knowitalls who are always ready to cast about their opinions. In the end, it is up to the owner to make the final decision, no matter how difficult it may be. The final decision, made with love, is the one that should govern the outcome.

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  9. You brought up our role of predators as caregivers which is such an odd tension. But after getting out of my head from that journey I come back to the ultimate question, “What is the horse’s best interest?”

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  10. These are such wise words Anna I have seen people spend thousands of dollars trying to “fix” a horse only to end up injured themselves.

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  11. A very difficult topic Anna. I’ve never owned a horse like the one you’ve described, but there was a very troubled horse in Buck, the film about Buck Brannaman. This horse was raised from a foal as a house pet by a well-intentioned person, and the horse never had the opportunity to learn how to be a horse from other horses. In the film, the horse attacked and bit the face of one of Buck’s assistants during a training session. I asked Buck about this horse during one of his clinics, and he said the horse was much more dangerous than was depicted in the movie. In such a situation, euthanasia might be the right answer for the horse and the human. Thank you for having the courage to discuss this.

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      • I saw the film too and thought about that horse after reading todays blog. Really bothered me knowing that there are many many instances of decisions that should be made for the welfare of the horse AND humans – knowing that these decisions are far from easy – but then sending the horse “down the road” so that hes someone else’s problem.

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  12. A friend had a mare who would strike out, completely unprovoked, and often at nothing at all. She had multiple videos of the mare standing relaxed one moment, ears at half-mast, droopy-lipped, the next instant ears pinned, head snaking, teeth bared. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. When they autopsied the mare, it turned out she had a brain tumor.

    I once owned a gelding with headshaking syndrome. Despite medication (so much medication, so many supplements, we tried EVERYTHING), being kept in a dark barn with a special mask on, etc, he was in so much pain he couldn’t eat during the day. He bashed his face bloody. He was dangerous to handle because he would “black out” when a wave of pain hit him and sling his head, often accidentally hitting his handler. We simply couldn’t manage his pain enough for him to even be a horse – euthanizing him was the kindest thing we could do.

    So yes. It may be “behavioral” but I agree, the root cause seems to be pain. And there’s no shame in taking that pain away – sometimes it’s the best thing we can do, for everyone.

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  13. Thank you for your wise words and kind thoughts. There is so much we don’t know about what the horses are going through.

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  14. This is beautifully written and sad. I am so sick and f***ing tired of the railbirds and asshats who know everything. I have a tiny Sanctuary that I hope to someday grow that and be able to take in more horses. It’s just me at this point as my husband isn’t a horse person. A friend of mine here in Klamath Falls, OR warned me that some horse people can be just plain mean and catty. I thought that only happened with show people and the like…I was wrong. Thank you for your blog, your compassion, and your voice. I love reading your thoughts.

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  15. I see no reason why horses couldn’t suffer from mental illness just as we do. I adopted a Thoroughbred yearling filly a few years ago — she came from a very reputable small breeder but was swaybacked, so they decided she was not destined for the Yearling Sale (or a racing career) and just wanted a knowledgeable sport-horse home for her. While her compatriots had been brought in and handled and fussed over as prep for the sale, Trixie stayed out in the field, mostly left to her own devices (with a few mares for company). So I attributed her flightiness and fearfulness, when she first arrived at my place, to sheer inexperience. But as she matured, despite all my patient daily handling, and the good examples from the other horses around her, she was never able to relax or trust me beyond the bare minimum of domesticity (though I think she was *slightly* less suspicious of my motives than she was of the rest of humanity). Her whole life, she behaved like a horse who had been abused. I knew for a fact that she never had been, certainly not by me, and not by her excellent breeder. She also just seemed to have trouble processing and retaining new lessons of any kind; where most horses have excellent memories and can connect the dots, Trixie seemed just as surprised (and horrified) every single time I put down a trotting pole for her to longe over. I got her backed, but barely … after she exploded and hurt a (very competent) student of mine, two years in to her supposed education under saddle, by lawn-darting her into the ground, we didn’t try again. She was every bad cliche of a chestnut Thoroughbred mare ever, but it went far deeper than that. I joked with my vet that I needed a legitimate medical reason to put her down … and gawd laughed and gave Trixie a persistent sinus infection, winter before last, that resisted every increasingly-invasive treatment (as did Trixie) and turned out to be fungal (read: no medical treatment). She would not have tolerated the trip to the U of Guelph, nor the surgery to open a bone flap and basically scrape out her skull, nor the extended recovery time. And so Trixie breathed her last here at home with me, though I suspect my presence and my quiet tears were not soothing to her in the least. I told her I appreciated her for what she was, understood what she could not be, and that I was sorry I had not been able to help make her more comfortable in her own skin. She was only seven, and I still feel like a total failure, because it was in essence a behavioural euthanasia despite the medical rationale for it. But she was never a horse who could have been in the hands of an amateur, and she was always going to have the potential to hurt people — because I don’t think she was quite right, mentally, through no fault of her own.

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      • I remain confident that her pain didn’t stem from her swaybacked conformation. I was very thorough about investigating that before I ever put tack on her (or indeed, before I agreed to take her). It was a blanket- and saddle-fitting challenge but not a disability. The pain between her ears, though — whether it was true mental illness, a brain tumour, or a learning disability (possibly all three??) — that, I couldn’t help her with, and it remains a real regret.

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  16. Anna, you are right of course, and I say that while looking out the window at our retired gelding whose chronic pain is moving him quickly toward the point of needing a ‘predator’. Yet I can’t tell you how many people have suggested rehoming him, either as a pasture pet or emotional support animal (ugh, do not even get me started on that topic) and I look at them like they’ve grown horns.

    Henry deserves far better than that. He deserves an unsentimental owner who will face the reality of his need and not grow weak because it’s too hard.

    When the time comes, my heart will simultaneously break and soar.

    It’s the last (and I believe the best) gift I can give him.

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  17. Well written and not an easy subject to discuss. Thank you for writing on this subject that is not discussed nearly enough.

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  18. Well, you deserve much of the credit for alerting us to his pain. When you ate dinner with Joe and I at an Oregon clinic last May, you were kind enough to watch a video of him in the pasture and confirm that he was indeed in pain and should be retired–and you didn’t mince words.

    We are so grateful for your willingness to speak out on Henry’s behalf, and I know he’s just one of many horses on this planet who have benefited from your advocacy. <3

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  19. Well, you deserve much of the credit for alerting us to his predicament. When you ate dinner with Joe and I at an Oregon clinic last May, you were gracious enough to watch a video of him in the pasture and confirm that he was indeed in pain and should be retired–and you didn’t mince words.

    We are so grateful for your willingness to speak out on Henry’s behalf, and I know he’s just one of many horses on this planet who have benefited from your advocacy. <3

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  20. very difficult subject this. I think rescue horses are as you stated; usually dumped for financial reasons; or because people buy horses they are not capable of training because they aren’t trained themselves; or won’t spend the money to have someone else do it for them and then remain under supervision with lessons etc. Horses are not bikes or motorcycles or cars… But some go to rescue from someone REALLY messing them up…. I truly believe most horses are “sane”. Those that aren’t usually don’t get to reproduce much to this point and pass on the genes. But not saying it’s not possible. There are horses that are NEARLY irretrievable because they’ve learned to rear; back up; twist; buck and head for the mirrors or the walls; etc. to dislodge their riders – and all that takes fixing of a kind most are not qualified to do. I had one like that. He came to me that way; I was his last chance. I did my best and a french trainer from SAMUR really fixed it..but he remained aware of his powers so it was always a threat I had to quash fast or he’d revert. In the end he had a mysterious lameness never diagnosed. I think horses can be ruined like children…made desperate and angry and terrified and unable to trust again. Some could be saved with allot of work…allot…and with someone really really experienced with dangerous horses. But most don’t get that chance, end up in Kill Pens.

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    • I believe that horses will work through pain, but the pain always rings in the background… I think pain is an ingredient in extreme behaviors and I, too, have trained them to ignore the pain as best they can. I think about that a lot. Great comment, thank you, Linda.

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  21. Whew – you clearly touched some hearts here, Anna. We’ve all been there, in one way or another. I have seen exactly what you described in unexplained but surely-pain-based, drastically changed behavior. He happened to be at the horse rescue and had been fine, but then … quarantine, testing, testing and still no explanation. So, he was put down, too and I agreed with it. It was just so clear that he didn’t understand what was going on either, both confused and seemingly miserable.

    In this post, you have managed to both assuage some of our guilt and remind us of our responsibility to do the best we can for our horses. Thank you – dang.

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  22. Gosh…. what a wonderful article about a very sensitive subject both in the horse and dog world. It’s not always a happy ending (in our minds) when ‘we’ take on rescue animals but I agree wholeheartedly with you, every case should be viewed and understood on its own merits. Sad, but in some cases unavoidable and maybe the kindest thing to do for the animal in question. Brilliant Anna as usual…

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  23. I was young and leaving the country. My folks didn’t have much money and were not horse people at all. Lots of money was spent to find out she must have scratched her eye and became blind b/c of it. I sold her to the local guy and made him promise to sell her to a good home. With the knowledge that comes with experience and age, I should not have sold her to him. I pray daily that she was put down immediately rather than being shipped to Canada or Mexico. My heart breaks daily for what I had inadvertently done and feel guilty every day. If I was wiser I would have put her down to save her myself. I cry as I write this. Please forgive me Shi.

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    • So sorry, and you did the best you knew. That’s what mattered. Next time you will know more, but please try to let go of the pain of this. I know your horse has and she knew your intention. She doesn’t hold a grudge. Thanks for commenting, you have our love.

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  24. Going thru this now with a well bred 8 yr old. Multiple vets, at the retraining stage, if that fails my next choice is to donate a sound of body heart horse to a vet school😭

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  25. Good morning….afternoon….middle of the nite I think.

    I think you have many gifts and once again your timing is spot on.

    Less than twelve hours ago we made the decision to help our dear long eared friend Eleanor go. She was the donkey I asked your help with and you told me to “ listen deeply” …. she ever so patiently and ever so slowly helped me understand what that meant to a donkey. Eleanor had been a roping donkey…..then she was the friend of an autistic boy who loved her for many years…for the last eight years she has helped a small herd of Fjords, Draft and other assorted characters with there manners. She has taught me manners also.

    So deep breath and a long Yess , Kim Griffin

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    • I guess most of us have been there – at least once – with a horse, dogs, cats – so many. But every time is the first time with that particular creature. So sorry – Eleanor sounds like such a beautiful friend. Thats the responsibility we who care for animals owe them and thats our promise to them – as hard as it is for us.

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    • What a full life, and being a rope donkey is a special kind of hell…well done that she could have something for us after that. Bless Eleanor on her way, I am sorry for your loss.

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  26. Great article. Thank you. You mentioned that pain is always the underlying cause. I think pain can certainly be the basis as can other nonpain-related medical issues. Ovarian cyst and functional tumors are an example of this.

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  27. Great post Anna! And especially valuable coming from someone with direct, repeated experience of this.

    I think there’s also room in this topic for a look at the initiating reason WHY we have horses? And to get clarity (without judgement or shame) on that. Because horses are so costly (in most parts of the world), money is often a (the?) significant factor in the equation.

    If I say, “The reason I’m willing to spend so much money on a horse is because the horse must be able to perform X task for me.” And then I realize there’s no way this horse is capable of X. Then that leaves only 2 options: Re-homing or death. What “X” is, doesn’t matter. It could be riding, jumping, equine therapy, dressage, cuddle-buddy, etc. You’ve covered these 2 options in your post and others have pointed out the dangers/difficulties of re-homing in the Comments.

    On the other hand, if I say, “When I purchase a horse, that horse has a forever home, no matter what.” Then when a horse displays the unceasing difficult/dangerous behaviours you’ve talked about, the remaining option is to pay for the horse to live in a compatible herd on 100 acres or so, where the horse can just BE. The horse remains under my protection and legal ownership, but I make no demands and have no expectations. A horse who doesn’t have to interact or be touched by a human, and is with safe herd members (test for compatibility, introduce very slowly, giving horse plenty of time to adjust, make sure herd density is low) will often (usually?) cease to be dangerous.

    Unless you’re in a very crowded area in Europe, this option is not going to cost more than keeping the horse at a local boarding facility. If you have your own land, and zero money for boarding, then is there a way for the horse to stay but be left alone? If not, then we’re back the the values question.

    I realize this option is not usually talked about, or even considered due to the financial aspect vs. perceived lack of benefit to the human. But if congruence is our goal, then simply identifying where we stand on this, what our values are, what our motivations are, can bring worthwhile clarity.

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    • Jini, great comment and point well taken. I have several who fit the type you mention, and I think many of us have some pasture dwellers in the same way. Our rescue rehomes many horses with “no work purpose” and I love living at a time when there is pasture for those. My father would have never allowed a “useless” animal. I think this needs to be mentioned and in my travels, I see many. I am thrilled to say… And your point is well taken.

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      • Fathers…. it drives mine nuts that a) I have so many horses and b) that only 1 is rideable, “What are you DOING with 11 horses that just stand around and eat all day??” Of course, the odd time he comes out, he is fascinated with them and during the recent integration of 5 new wild mustangs to the herd I couldn’t even get him to leave the field (ummm safer on the other side of the fence, Dad). But yes, it’s certainly a growing trend and glad to hear you’re seeing more and more of it. No one ever says, “Why do you have a dog you can’t ride?” or “What’s the point of rescuing a lion if you can’t ride it??”

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        • I think even a lot of people with horse experience have absolutely no concept that there is pleasure and enjoyment galore just to see them being horses and being around them – horses or other animals really dont need humans to give them a purpose – that is true whether they are domestic or wild.

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  28. omgoodness….crying again. We looked at a horse that we had worked with, in multiple directions, for over five years. The behavior was so vicious and bad… sigh – we did pain (vet, chiro,teeth, diet, etc), training (natural, traditional, old,new), food, natural, outside help and millions of hours of research. We just searched and searched and searched without giving up and often with many hours of heartache trying to get to the bottom of it – to give him a life of delight and joy that all horses deserve. It just wasn’t happening. He tried to kill everything…. dogs, chickens – and yep even the biscuit of hay…thing is it also included humans. What we found the most bothersome and worrying is that he would often “spring” a surprise on you without the warning flick of an ear, tension, weight shifting, tail flick etc… he would walk up to you all soft and then just lash out front feet, back feet, teeth, body weight – he used ALL manner of techniques. And it never eased…. he was a fairly high end dressage horse… and we poured money into him constantly and that included companion horses (which he tried to pound into oblivion as well). We had to remove them into a paddock next to him for their safety. He never wanted equine company or human or sheep or ……. it was the weirdest thing i have seen in 45 years of horse ownership. He was very perturbing but sooooo heart breaking. Long road to the decision to Euthanize…. He was our responsibility. God gave him into our care and regardless of his training we could NOT sell him on, not ever. He almost beggard us. Sold my house, the 4WD, The float…. and we poured money into him. It comes to a time where there is nothing else to give and he couldn’t be sold on to another home. Heart breaking… for him and us. I often have a few tears, even now a few years later…. that any creature on earth could find it so hard to just “be”. He was so screwed up and i dont know how or why and i was able to help him. I felt i had failed him. I still do. The emotional part of my feels like i failed him, but the reasoning part of my knows that we did so much more than humanly possible to fix issues we couldnt get to the bottom of. We still have his companion… a darling rescue that we (once again) know nothing of – but he is sweet, quirky, soft and gentle. I take away so many lessons and so much heartache from the 5 years of owning that horse……. but still i would trade all that in – to have him back as a happy and sound horse. Some things…….. we wish……… and we ache…… but just wasnt to be.

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    • Kerriann, thanks so much for this comment. Such a good example. We do owe them our best try, but he was dangerous and love doesn’t heal everything… thank you for your valor in fighting for him, bless your best memory of him. And he might be in a place now where he is free of pain. I could be telling myself stories, but I believe that. Again, thank you for sharing, and making the point that euthanizing isn’t the easy way out at all.

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  29. On the website http://www.konnectionsonline.com is my Natural Horse magazine article about the Brain Rebalancing that Chris Treml does for humans and animals. She is able to rewire the brain of many who have behavior problems, thus enabling them to process and respond to information. One of her explanations is “transposed hemispheres” when the mind is trying to process info using the wrong ‘side’ of the brain. People report humans and animals having major changes in proprioception, thinking, and handling stress. I saw several horses whose behavior improved dramatically from one treatment. Chris has also worked on animals whose “wiring” was damaged beyond her ability to repair it.

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  30. I wonder if he had a brain injury – from collision, severe pull-back, rearing, fight, etc? His behaviour sounds like some humans I’ve read about after a brain injury. I even know a woman (a psychotherapist) who ended up divorcing her husband of 25 years because there was NOTHING they could do that worked to help or heal him after his brain injury. If you couldn’t even put him out to pasture/retire with another horse or goat etc, then there’s truly no other option for any quality of life.

    Have you considered an EFT Tapping session to allow yourself to forgive yourself and release him? Or perhaps an animal communication session would bring release? Your logical mind knows you did everything – but sounds like your body and emotional body need release from this trauma.

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  31. My sister had a mare that started getting aggressive, and quite irritable. They found tumors on her reproductive organs. They removed them and she lasted quite a few more years, finally passing from cancer that I suspect metastasized from the original site. On another note, my best horsey friend and I have our first ownership of horses. My Appaloosa is only 8 years old, and I have had him for 1.5 years. I have dealt with gastric ulcers, minor abscess of the hoof, saddle fit issues that resulted in bucking, and now kissing spines. He exhibited aggression, biting me twice. I couldn’t groom him in certain areas, I was unable to clean all hooves (and I still can’t). He had surgery 3 weeks ago for the kissing spines. During this time people kept telling me that “he’s got your number”, “he is testing you” and that I was basically doing it wrong. I knew my horse. I knew there was something more to it, and every time, I was unfortunately right. I felt like I was looking for problems, but the last time I rode him he bucked and reared without much warning when in the trot. Now, I am faced with rehab, and if he is un-ridable, I will consider putting him down. I don’t want him in anyone else’s hands. I don’t want anyone to get hurt, let alone myself. I face the guilt, the pain, but as you said, I will know when or if it is time. I cannot, nor do I want, a pasture pet. I feel so selfish. But if I keep him, I can’t have my family and I out to ride. I can’t afford more than one horse. I love my horse so deeply that it actually surprises me, but I want to spend time trail riding and not worrying. I don’t want to constantly fight with him to establish myself as leader. I get tired of him trying to nip me. It is so much work, it isn’t fun anymore. I am an ICU nurse, a mother of 3 and a wife. I have spent my entire life taking care of others, and lost my mother to suicide after my brother did the same 6 months before, I ran a household in my teens. I just wanted something for me, for once in my life. Such selfish thoughts! Can I allow myself this pleasure of horse back riding? I pray for a successful rehab!

    Reply
    • Yes, you can. Good luck on the rehab and good luck for your horse. For all of the advice thrown about, in the end, it is no one’s choice but yours. Railbirds can chatter…

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  32. Thank you. I still feel guilt and shame for having horses put down when I had been over the rights and wrongs of it a thousand and one times before I called the vet. Those feelings, I think, are just part of the checks and balances that stop us from becoming hasty or callous.

    At the same time, I agree with you that there are many things that are worse than being dead. People who believe that euthanasia is never the right answer are doing damage.

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    • There are always critics who think they have an answer to every question, but in the end…no one who makes a decision to euthanize does it with a light heart. It’s never the first choice…

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  33. Wonderful piece on a very hard topic. Rescue or not, it is often excruciating to figure out when enough is enough. And you always wonder about if there was something more you could have done. It isn’t true what some say, that “you’ll know when it’s time.” Would that life could be that simple or love that straightforward.

    Reply
    • Gosh, do I agree. “you know when it’s time” is trite and I don’t believe it. I think we know when it’s past time, but it is always the last worst thing. Thanks, Therese.

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  34. The best trainer I know — a man who is truly gifted and has helped countless horses — was once given a horse that was dangerous and could not be made safe to ride no matter what the owner did. After every possible physical test was done to try to rule out pain, this trainer worked with the horse at great length and found that if he could be consistent and work with the horse every single day, the horse got to a point where this trainer (and he alone) could ride it. However, as a busy trainer who has many away clinics, he was not home every day. He found that if he left this horse for even a few days, he was back to square zero, the horse behaving as if he hadn’t been worked with at all and bucking so fiercely that even he (a former bull rider) could sometimes not stay on. He decided to just let the horse live out his life in the pasture with other horses, but the horse was not okay in that situation either. He was a nervous wreck, basically all the time. Had he been able to just “be” and live out his life in peace with the other horses, the trainer would have given him that life. Sadly, the trainer made the incredibly painful decision to put the horse down, for the horse’s sake, as it was clear that he was suffering mentally — no one knows why. I personally believe that some animals, just like some people, may have things going on in their brain that makes them not okay, no matter what. It is not a kindness to such animals to keep them living a life that is terrifying or upsetting to them. I know that my trainer friend understood this, but it still broke his heart to do it and he has said it will haunt him for the rest of his life.

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  35. Sometimes, there is nothing else to do and we, as a member of the species that is supposed to know, must put our feelings and beliefs aside and do what is necessary. Necessary for our protection as well as to protect others when they can’t protect themselves.

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  36. Absolutely well written article from the heart….. I must add one thing….. as a severe chronic pain sufferer (I must take 9 different meds daily, I endure extremely painful spine injections every 3-4 weeks) there are days that I bang my head against the wall just to have a “different pain” to deal with…… the pain has made me into a person I never wanted to be….. I’ve become “mental” at times, so if I can experience that, why can’t a horse go “mental” from pain??? Pain is pain no matter the body it ravages…… so I believe pain can certainly drive severe behavior issues in horses! We as the “brain” of every relationship we have with our animal friends, must ALWAYS remember the last gift we can ever give is to let them go with dignity and grace, let their last days not be their worst, let them be released from their Earthly pain whether physical or mental! God bless you for such a loving article!!!!

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  37. My horse would have been put down several times by different vets about 10 years ago. He had panic attacks without any reason, separation anxiety and seemed depressend and in pain (headshaking) when not panicking. After 1.5 years I insisted on one last test: Borna Virus Disease. And this came back positive. He was treated successfully, normal behaviour came back. Only the headshaking did not go away. But without beeing ridden, he lives a very good life now. What I am trying to say: Borna Virus (although not very common outside of Germany), Borreliosis and Herpes should always be considered when there are no other explanations for weird, abnormal behaviour.

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  38. Based on the number of comments, this topic is clearly one we all find difficult. Thank you Anna, for your honest perspectives. Sadly I have made the decision to let go of beloved companions with intractable pain more often than Mother Nature has taken responsibility for the deed. In my brain it always felt like the right thing to do,but in my heart a painful loss. I try to remind myself of the Greek word root of euthanasia “good death” , and to know in my soul that there are worse earthly things than death. Thanks again Anna for taking on such a tough subject.

    Reply
    • Great comment, Laurie. Words matter, that can change perception. In dealing with a parent’s impending death, hospice explained that “terminal anxiety” was a thing. Lousy name for it, but the anxiety of being aware of the process the body takes. My mom was afraid of what was happening as her body was failing. She managed to die in her sleep, it was a “good death”. And why do we take the blame that nature deserves some of the time? Why do we take on fights that are not ours? Is there a thing more ordinary and natural than dying? Thought provoking comment, thank you.

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  39. Hi Anna,

    I’m a new reader of your blog and started with “Behavioral Euthanasia of Horses”. Sigh. Not at all a low point in reading but an enlightened one, one that will help many, two and four-legged. I think by re-hashing and discussing an often “taboo” subject folks will feel more comfortable when the time comes to make the decision And be able to live with that decision after the goodbyes are said.
    Thank you.

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  40. Sitting in my barn on a beautiful spring evening finishing up reading the comments. Looking around at every one who lives here in various degrees of good health. Today we are all having a good day! I am incredibly thankful for everyone’s heart felt words. Incredibly thankful for the animals in my life. Thankful that while I can’t afford a huge surgery vet bill I can afford to keep my crew comfortable untill they are not able to be. We all do the best we can. I wish peace for all of us humans in our daily decisions. 💛 TAZ

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  41. And Thankful that today I didn’t face the euthanasia question. How are you today is formost in my mind of the 5 horses, 6 dogs and 8 cats in various degrees of health. So today was an excellent day! 🌞 TAZ

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  42. Thank you for this article and insite, very well written. I have been a foster for a couple of rescues for the past 4 years, I have rehabilitated over 35 horses many which were starved, I have seen a lot of serious behavioral problems with the auction horses that were being rescued. We’ve heard it all from the railbirds (most not knowledgeable when it comes to equines) criticizing the rescues for euthanizing dangerous horses, when all things are ruled out sometimes it is just necessary for the safety of all involved including the horse, these are usually the same people that think rescuing is saving all horses and that is just not possible, rescuing horses is doing what is best for each particular horse many rescued with life threatening illnesses or injuries, some with coffin bones dropping through the bottoms of their soles from laminitis and being let down by their owners who are trying to make that last buck so they don’t have to spend the money to have their horse euthanized and disposed of. I am 61 years old and have been around horses my entire life, I’ve worked around just about every discipline in the industry, I’ve seen catastrophic injuries to both horses and riders due to behavioral issues. Sometimes euthanasia is the kindest thing to do. I liked your comment about the horse not thinking of their death, it is not on their minds, euthanizing a horse is a tough decision that is gutwrenching for all involved especially when you love horses and dedicate your life to them. I am currently dealing with my 30 year old OTTB (a foster failure I adopted) that is in serious pain due to arthritis in her neck affecting her back legs and that pain is causing her ulcers, my vet and I have tried everything, we knew she wouldn’t have long but I’ve had her 2 years now. Thank you again for the article.

    Reply
    • Thank you, this comment is so important. Euthanizing is never the first choice, it comes hard everytime and I hate having that trivialized by folks who don’t have the guts to do what you do. Thank you for this final home stretch for the OTTB you mention. She says thank you, for what you have done and what you will do. Best wishes, Linda.

      Reply

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